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TREES, PLEASE: Tree Ordinances. Love them or leave them?

By Tim Clancy.

Sometimes government agencies get it right. In other cases, government regulations seem arbitrary, over-reaching and burdensome. The oak preservation ordinance of Thousand Oaks, California, is a case in point.

I got involved with oak preservation in Thousand Oaks when a national chain of coffee shops wanted to install a wooden deck around an oak tree in their outdoor patio area. A local ordinance protects any species of oak over two inches in diameter. Thousand Oaks also has a landmark tree ordinance that protects sycamore, black walnut, bay laurel and toyon trees. Their ordinances do seem to be effective, as there are many large and beautiful trees in and around the developments in town.

They sure do take their trees seriously in Thousand Oaks. When work is proposed on or near an oak tree, the city must be notified. In the case of the coffee shop, the proposed wooden deck would be within the critical root zone of the tree, defined as the tree dripline plus five feet. My first task was to review the plans submitted by the architect to determine if his proposed construction methodology would work. He had proposed a piling system to minimize root cutting, which seemed like an excellent approach.

I also took measurements of the trees (there were three in the deck area but only one was near the deck), documenting tree condition, and detailed any pruning required. All of this went into a report with photographs and a map, which was submitted to the City for approval by the Development Department. I estimated the cost to save the tree and build the deck around it to be in the neighborhood of $15,000.

Reviewing the plans and estimating costs was only part of my responsibilities. The city requires the project arborist to participate in a pre-construction meeting with the builder and the city oak tree specialist, an arborist in this case, to outline what has been approved and what can be allowed. As project arborist, I was also required to be present whenever work was being done within the critical root zone of the protected tree. The work lasted three day and my role was to document the work and report any problems to the City arborist. Luckily, we did not encounter any issues that had to be reported. The City had given me permission to cut any roots less than 2 inches. In five locations we did encounter roots larger than 2 inches, but we were able to relocate the piling location and still accommodate the engineering requirements of the deck.

Of course this all had to be memorialized and certified in a final report. In the end, I got a nice payday and the city had preserved another oak tree. I think I like tree ordinances very much. I’m not so sure about the coffee shop owner.

Tim Clancy is an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist.


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